Sermon, April 18, 2019 – Maundy Thursday, Year C
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday when the Church commemorates three things: Christ’s command to love one another; the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus tell his disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The word command in Latin is :mandatum”, which became “Maundy”. Maundy Thursday is named for this command of Jesus. Jesus command to love on another like he loved us, is underlined by his washing of the disciples’ feet followed by his institution of the Lord’s Supper. These three things are all intertwined.
Let’s think about that for a moment. The evening before his crucifixion, Jesus gathered with his disciples for a meal together. It was at this gathering that Jesus did two things. First, he washed the feet of his disciples. In the ancient near east, when someone would go to an important event, they would wash at home, put on their best clothes and then walk to where they were going via the dusty streets in their sandals. When they arrived at their destination, the last thing they did before joining the party would be to have the household slaves wash their dirty feet. Washing their feet would make them clean and presentable for the important meal. And so by washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus symbolically took on the role of the lowest of servants to make the disciples presentable for communion with God. This is the very purpose that Jesus’ death and resurrection plays for each one of us. We need to be made clean so that we can enter into God’s eternal presence – not caked in the dirt and filth of life, but made clean and presentable. Just as Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet made them clean and presentable for their meal, so his death on the cross cleansed us from our sins and makes us clean and presentable to God.
The institution of the Lord’s Supper continues this theme. During the meal together with his disciples, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and commanded his followers to celebrate this sacrament in his memory until he comes again. Jesus is telling us that the Eucharist should act as a perpetual sacrament, telling us over and over again how Jesus’ body and blood was sacrificed for us on the altar of God, to be the “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus took bread and wine, and told his disciples that these ordinary elements would become his body and blood, given up for them and sealing the new covenant he was about to give his life to inaugurate. It was, of course, only after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that the Church truly understood what Christ instituted on Maundy Thursday in the Lord’s Supper.
By both washing the feet of the disciples and by instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus was showing us how great his love is for us. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote about Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus gave up his all to save us because of his great love for us. And he tells us “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We love one another not to gain favor with God, but because God first loved us, and gave his only Son to die for us. We love each other because that is the only possible response to God’s love for us.
In our disembodied world today, where we can have so many friends on Facebook that we have never actually met, and where much of American Christianity tells us that faith is only spiritual without having much to do with our physical world, we can often forget that God created us to be in a real, living, breathing, human community with one another. It is only in the context of such a community that real love can exist in any sort of sustainable and life-giving way.
We were created to be in relationship with others face to face. Jesus got down on the ground and washed his disciples’ feet. He washed off the dirt and the sweat. He did things that only slaves do. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we take the bread into our hands and put it in our mouths. We take the cup to our mouths and drink the wine. We don’t just read about it or partake alone sitting in front of our computers or mobile devices. Real relationships can only exist and real love is shown by being present with others.
And so, what I want you to think about is how you can show love to others within your communities; in tangible and immediate ways. In being physically present for those who need our love. As you move through your lives, think about what Jesus has done for you, and how you, in turn, can touch the lives of others with that love.
Let us pray.
God our Father, you have invited us to share in the supper which your Son gave to his Church to proclaim his death until he comes: may he nourish us by his presence, and unite us in his love; that we can show forth that love to others. Amen.